Persad-Bissessar challenges AG's "tactics" to allow marriage bill to pass with simple majority

Date: 
Wednesday, January 18, 2017 - 15:45

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar is questioning the decision by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi to omit the parts of the marriage legislation that needed a special majority, to ensure that it was passed in the Senate last night.

Persad-Bissessar says the AG appears to be legislating "by tactics" and is calling on him to state whether he had Cabinet's permission to do so.

The following is a statement issued by Persad-Bissessar today:

"1. I make this statement without prejudice to my firm belief that the legal age for consent to marriage should be eighteen (18) years.

2. In all of the circumstances I call on the Attorney General to disclose the following in the public interest:

a) The advice that he purportedly received which supports the view that the Miscellaneous Provisions Marriage Bill does not infringe the rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

b) When was that advice sought and received?

c) Did he get the approval of the Cabinet of this country to delete those parts of the Bill which state that the provisions of same are inconsistent with the constitution? If so, why?

d) When was that Cabinet approval given?

e) If there was Cabinet approval and the intention was to so delete, why was this not disclosed to the Senate when the debate commenced on the 17th January 2017.

The oath of each Parliamentarian requires that in the performance of their duty to the people of this country they must uphold the Constitution and the law. Last night Attorney General Faris al Rawi made the astonishing and shocking declaration that this government was prepared to legislate by tactics. This paves the way for anarchy, tyranny and dictatorship. This statement was made in the Attorney General’s wrapping of the debate on the Miscellaneous Provisions Marriage Bill 2016.

The Attorney General, last night, informed the Senate that he was prepared to amend the Bill and withdraw the preamble requiring a special majority for the passage of this legislation. In so doing the Attorney General indicated that he would take his chances in the Courts if the legislation were subject to constitutional challenge. The Constitution provides the mechanism by which a government seeking to pass a Bill that is inconsistent with the fundamental rights provisions must abide, section 13 and section 54 of the Constitution and the Attorney General actions clearly demonstrate a deliberate intention on the part of the government to sidestep the Constitution and the law.

By the preamble to the Constitution the people of Trinidad and Tobago affirmed that the nation of Trinidad and Tobago is founded upon principles that acknowledge the position of the family in a society of free men and free institutions. Section 4(c) of the Constitution guarantees the right to respect for family life. This right is one that is unique to Trinidad and Tobago when compared to other Commonwealth Caribbean Constitutions based upon the Westminster model.

It is beyond argument that the provision of a mandatory minimum age to contract marriage would be inconsistent with these express provisions of the Constitution and the international conventions that Trinidad and Tobago are a party to that recognizes and protects the institution of the family. How in those circumstances could the Attorney General withdraw the requirement for a special majority and announce that he would take his chances in the Courts.

The actions of the Attorney General subvert the express terms of the Constitution. It amounts to a dangerous undermining of our constitutional democracy whereby the Executive is prepared to risk infringing the fundamental rights of our citizens and gamble that the legislation would not be challenged or if challenged would withstand constitutional scrutiny. It is an extension of the arrogance and the condescension of this government.

The Attorney General chose not to place at risk his job in the event that the legislation failed in the House of Representative but instead place at risk the rights of the citizens of this country. These are the actions of a man who is vested with the responsibility to advise the government of this country but more importantly to be the guardian of the interest of the people of this country. This is the Attorney General that told the people of this country that they had no right to privacy in piloting the Strategic Services Agency Amendment Bill and now it seems that we are being told we have no right to family life as well.

The Attorney General indicated to the Parliament that he had received advice, both local and foreign Counsel, which supported the view that this legislation did not breach the fundamental rights provisions but when asked to share that advice, that was paid for by the people of Trinidad and Tobago, with the persons who are appointed to the Parliament to represent the people of Trinidad and Tobago the Attorney General bluntly refused.

If you are prepared to bring legislation that infringes upon constitutional rights or is likely to contravene constitutional rights you must be prepared to defend that legislation and convince the Parliament that the passage of such legislation is for the peace, order and good governance of Trinidad and Tobago. That is the constitutional threshold that you must satisfy. It is clear that the Attorney General is not prepared to act in the best interest of the people of this country.

In all of the circumstances I call on the Attorney General to disclose the following in the public interest:

a) The advice that he purportedly received which supports the view that the Miscellaneous Provisions Marriage Bill does not infringe the rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

b) When was that advice sought and received?

c) Did he get the approval of the Cabinet of this country to delete those parts of the Bill which state that the provisions of same are inconsistent with the constitution? If so, why?

d) When was that Cabinet approval given?

e) If there was Cabinet approval and the intention was to so delete, why was this not disclosed to the Senate when the debate commenced on the 17th January 2017."

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